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Underfunding, Bane Of Nigeria’s Higher Education — Agu

Professor Agu Gab Agu
Agu Gab Agu
Agu Gab Agu is a professor of international law and ex-chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities Enugu State University of Technology chapter. He talks about the challenges facing higher education in Nigeria.

You were the chairman of ASUU-ESUT for five years, what was the experience like?

Well, it was interesting and exciting serving as the chairperson of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Enugu State University of Technology chapter. The position took much of my time.

But it was interesting and I felt some level of fulfillment in trying to serve humanity and pursuing the welfare of my colleagues. It also took my time for scholarly activities. Sometimes, one could also be misunderstood in trying to do one’s best.

Some people are of the view that ASUU is synonymous with strike actions in pursuit of its demands. Are there no other ways the union can explore?

Let me first debunk your claim that ASUU is synonymous with strike actions. The point is that the capacity for employers to appreciate the sacrifices of ASUU members is often not much. So, most times, before they realise that what ASUU members are trying to do is not for selfish reasons, it would have been late. And what would have taken a little time to resolve, ego problem and others come in-between.

Also, those concerned do not tell the leadership of ASUU the real position of things. They could tell ASUU leadership that the government has no capacity to meet the demands at a particular time or there is no money for the requests being made. ASUU members are wonderful and responsible people who come from homes and manage homes. But when you do not tell the other person the truth about the position of things, there is no way the other person will find out. ASUU members have worked with the government and they appreciate its role. They know when a request is realisable or not. When leaders begin to tell them different things, they are not often happy with such a situation.

Look at the Tertiary Education Trust Fund for example. The government made a pledge to do something about it. It is not injecting the billions it promised to pot into the system. Such an action cannot help the situation.

As a professor of international law and director of ESUT graduate school of professional and legal education, what do you think are the challenges associated with the learning of Law in Nigeria?

Well, like in other countries, it does not come so costly. The facilities are not also too cheap. The admission quota is always regulated. There is an admission quota that is recommended for those seeking to study Law so that there can be full interaction between the students and lecturers. Also, 70 percent of the lecturers are expected to be PhD holders. And we do not have many of them. These are some of the issues. There must also be an up-to-date library independent of the university library, moot courts and an information technology centre where students can download necessary materials that they need. In fact, the law faculty should be sited in a good place.

For example, if you go to any university which runs a law programme, you will notice that the law students are always different in terms of their comportment.

We are not taking after the Britons where one needs to ask if the father or grandfather of a person wishing to study law also studied the course. We are a new generation of law lecturers and anybody can study the course. In some climes, law is like a pedigree. Hence, some people from that lineage are encouraged to study it.

Generally, what can you identify as the problems with tertiary education in Nigeria?

Funding is the major problem. If the owners or visitors to the universities try to put more money, we will have enough in terms of quality lecturers. When we have this in place, there will be quality students too.

State-owned universities are believed to lack full autonomy because of the perceived interferences of the visitors to the schools. What is your view on this?

There is no way and nowhere where a university has full autonomy. The autonomy given, especially to federal universities by the Federal Government, is so reasonable that the university can decide its own affairs. The Federal Government does not decide who becomes the vice-chancellor. A university council decides that. The law is clear on how the vice-chancellor of a university should run the school. But if he decides to compromise by going around asking what he should do, it shows incompetence.

State governors are visitors to state universities. They do not meddle with the running of the universities. It is the vice-chancellors that oversee the institutions. But if a vice-chancellor is someone who wants to cling to the position by all means, then of course, he will do the bidding of everybody. Ordinarily, the visitor to a university will not want to meddle with the running of that institution because the law is clear on who should run it.

How can student unrest be checked in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions?

People should do the right thing all the time. Teachers, students and government must play their parts. There is no way students will want to cause trouble if the environment is conducive to learning.

What are the challenges facing an average Nigerian lecturer?

The challenges include lack of infrastructure, research materials and an atmosphere conducive to learning. The other things are those faced by other Nigerians. They are not limited to only Nigerian lecturers. If a lecturer does not have electricity or water, it will affect him. These are environmental issues and they affect him a lot. Environmental factors affect him more than any other things.

He gets to work and there are no facilities for research. Also, his salary is not paid promptly even though he is not well paid. He is only reasonably paid. There is a room for improvement on that. That salary ought to have been reviewed by now and ASUU has a position on that.

Some stakeholders have maintained that many Nigerian universities run courses that they lack capacity for. Do you also agree with this submission?

I said it earlier that there is lack of funding. This is responsible for the situation. Even in the faculties of engineering in some universities, there are no facilities. There are no instructional materials in some too.

There has been a relative peace in the education sector. What do you think is responsible for this?

There is always a period of moratorium in any situation. The current administration is just coming with its list of ministers, the union cannot negotiate with anybody now. Until the current administration is settled, there will be no discussion. It is just six-month-old.

We have to give them time based on their promises during electioneering. Government is a continuum and the agreements the union reached with the past administration are due for review. I am sure that those pending issues are topical and if they are not addressed when necessary, the leadership of the union will decide on what to do next.

What is your advice to the current administration?

The current administration should reach out and do what is necessary. There is no other way to it. If one examines the demands of ASUU, one will discover that they are targeted at making higher education better in Nigeria. The struggles of ASUU are not for any selfish reasons as I earlier said. They are for the betterment of the Nigerian higher education. This year is ending and the nation’s education sector will continue to enjoy peace.

What advice do you have for your colleagues?

My advice for my colleagues is that we should continue to move forward and work hard as we have been doing. We are really working hard to achieve the Nigeria of our dream. The Nigeria of our dream means that everything that needs to be done must be done well. We will continue to contribute our quota to the realisation of a new Nigeria.

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